Less than 50% of Montrealers list French as mother tongue
It’s the doomsday demographic scenario sovereignists and language hawks in Quebec have long predicted, and newly released statistics suggest it may be unfolding ahead of schedule.
Census figures from 2006 show the number of people on the Island of Montreal who declare French as their mother tongue has slipped under 50 per cent for the first time in living memory — though a bare majority of residents on the island continue to primarily speak French at home and at work.
It’s a barrier that is weighty with political symbolism, particularly among nationalist Quebecers whose fears over identity and language have been laid bare during four months of public hearings at the Bouchard-Taylor commission on religious and ethnic accommodations.
“We are facing the ineluctable minority-ization of the French population in Montreal. Of course there’s cause for worry, especially when you consider that immigration is reaching unprecedented levels and 85 per cent of immigrants to Quebec live in Montreal,” said Mario Beaulieu of Montréal Français, a group of political and community activists who are pressing for more stringent language policies.
The news isn’t all bad, however.
Census researchers parsed the data and also discovered that immigrants to Quebec are speaking French at home in greater numbers than ever before, and that 51 per cent of new arrivals now live and work in Quebec’s only official language — an increase of 5 per cent over 2001.
Quebec Culture Minister Christine St.-Pierre, whose department includes the Office de la langue française, seized on the finding.
“Yes, we’re seeing a dip in relative demographic weight. But if you look at the absolute numbers, we have an increase of 30,000 (French speakers),” St.-Pierre told a news conference in Quebec City. “Our policies are working.”